Institutionalized . . .
As a new prison site is being chosn, we constantly hear about prisons. I have written about them before and no doubt will again, but for today, here I go. I spent 5-6 years going to the prison as a volunteer teacher in Medium Security, was an official witness at the Bishop execution, and so learned a bit more about prisoners than before I stepped inside those walls.
I was startled to find that all prisoners do not hate ‘that place’ and often heard the comment that they’d never had it so good, what with three meals, showers, clean clothes, recreational facilities, Heat and Cool Air as needed, and always a place to sleep.
It was a common phrase from the men, that if they were ever ‘freed’, the first thing they’d do would be to commit a crime so they would be sent back. And the nodding heads around the room made me know that it wasn’t a one-man attitude.
And I found that while we think of prison as punishment, most of those 45 or more years old, think otherwise.
To my shock, I found they had their plans for Retirement, just as people ‘on the outside’ do. But with a difference. The older (see above) planned on staying right where they were. Planned Retirement was a real thing to them, and Ethel was slowly getting an insight into Prison life that the average person could not get. And was appalled for they, if ever freed, even knew which crimes to commit to get back in, based on how long the sentences would be. They know all about that stuff and aren’t aiming for either Minimum or Maximum Security, just nice comfortable Medium.
My thinking began changing. They are required to do nothing except obey prison rules, and, while I’m sure my words will not fit the younger, short term prisoners, but almost all of the older group, are by and large, contented to be right where they are.
Yes, there are some who came from affluent homes, but a goodly part of the prison population did not, and for the first time in their lives, they have a security they’d never dreamed of having. With not one cent of expense to them.
But even those who came from homes with the basics given, wish to remain where they are. They know that with time, all families change, and after long years of imprisonment, are quite aware that the family they left, is no longer in existence.
My thinking continued to change. Everything is free, and for the first time in their lives their every need is given to them, and I realized that we have made prisons into very comfortable ‘homes’ for those there in Medium Security, where the sentences are longer, the men older.
The old stereotype of the Chain Gangs in our Southern States was appalling to us. Those men were forced to work and in some way, pay for their keep but I’d also wager that not a single one of those prisoners was planning on how to remain in prison for a long time, much less for retirement.
I don’t know how it could work, but I came to think that prisoners should be forced to work. And there would be great uproar from people who would say, they are taking jobs from people outside who need the work. Yes, in some ways that’s legitimate, but there must be some answer, for to tell the truth, we have made prison life too comfortable for the large number of mature prisoners. Believe it or not, they do not want OUT.
Farms, laundry, cleaning, yard work, painting, upkeep of any kind could be done by the prisoners and while security would be needed, the prisoners should be forced to work. Instead, they get movies, winter and summer recreational equipment. And no-cost classes by volunteers such as I was.
Recently, there have been several Federal Prisons built for older prisoners, who, like people outside, have developed Alzheimer’s and other old age maladies that require the care given on the ‘outside’ at Care Centers. Prisoners from all States, are now sent to Federal Care Centers, where specially trained doctors and nurses are employed.
And who pays for it all? Foolish to ask, for you know it is your tax dollars that make it possible. The people on the ‘outside’, often even victims of those prisoners, must pay for not only their own care, but to also pay for those huge Care Centers being built, plus the upkeep and staff..
I don’t know the answer, but it must be there. When prisoners are actually planning prison to be their Retirement Home, we are helping them along, with these special prisons, built to cater to the prisoner’s needs. Not ours.
To so many prisoners, ‘that place’ is the best thing that ever happened to them; It is not a punishment, but rather, their old age Insurance Policy. I struggled to NOT accept such an attitude, but the facts are there, and deeply imbedded, as well.
So, will the new prison we are soon to build, also turn into a Retirement Home? Worth thinking about, because, I assure you, the prisoners are.